1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 10
The steady rain pounding the decks did nothing to cool the heated discussion the captain of the Graça de São João was having with one of Surat’s many tax farmers as Salim climbed on deck.
Thankfully, neither man paid him any attention. A man with just a few parcels was not worthy of attention from grasping tax officials and he’d long since paid his passage to the captain.
Salim sent a wave the first mate’s way and walked from the ship.
Despite the rain, the docks were active, slaves and their overseers managing the loading and unloading of several vessels. All but the Graça de São João were from ports on the Indian Ocean, most here to trade in horses, indigo, spices, saltpeter, and slaves. One ship, Mughal-built, was returning from Hajj, pilgrims forming a knot of the faithful as they navigated the waterfront.
Happy to be ashore, Salim took a deep breath. Even through the rain, the scent of spices from East Africa and Southern India warred with the odors of river, tar and tide. While not from Gujurat, it was still a homecoming of sorts. He had done much in Gujurat in the first years he’d come down from the Khyber. It was a walk of a few minutes to the English factory complex.
Wishing to avoid any entanglements with people who might not remember him fondly, Salim found a sheltered spot to observe the gate. It was nearly sunset when he saw the man he’d been waiting for.
“Dhanji Das!” he called, angling to intercept the painfully thin men bearing Dhanji’s litter.
A flick of the fly-whisk he held indicated Dhanji had heard him, but the heavyset man did not order his bearers to stop, probably thinking Salim some kind of petitioner.
Which I suppose I am, all things considered.
He easily overtook the party, spoke from beside the lead bearer, “Dhanji Das, I am Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz.”
“Salim, friend to your brother, Jadu, in Ahmedabad. He introduced us four years ago –”
Dhanji spoke over him, waving the whisk at an invisible fly. “I’m afraid I don’t know –”
“– after I saved him from slavery or death,” Salim finished. The Das family business took advantage of the Englishmen’s disdain for learning the local languages: one cousin would range ahead of an English Company trader — whose translator was invariably another cousin — and buy up all the indigo or textiles for sale in a given market, then make a tidy profit selling it at a mark-up to the English. It was on one such trip that bandits had come across Jadu Das with a hundred fardles of indigo he planned to sell to the English. They’d come across him, beat him senseless, and staked him out to die.
At the time, Salim had been with a band hired by the governor of Gujurat to put a stop to the depredations of that very group of bandits. Setting upon them at night, the governor’s men had killed the bandits to a man.
After the skirmish, most of the governor’s men had thought to take Jadu’s goods for themselves and leave him staked where he was. Salim had forbidden it. A blood-drenched argument had ensued.
Jadu knew what was owed. It remained to be seen whether Dhanji did.
“Oh, that Salim!” Dhanji said, rapping ringed fingers against the litter frame to bring his bearers to a stop. “We thought you dead on foreign shores!”
You hoped it was so, that you might be free of obligation. Stifling the urge to say the words out loud, Salim said, “And yet here I stand.”
A smile. “Yes, yes indeed.”
“God is merciful.”
Hindu, Dhanji’s response was a graceful nod. A silence settled.
Irritated that he had to remind Das exactly how much was owed, Salim tried again: “I trust trade with the English proceeds without difficulty?”
A twist of fleshy lips. “It does, but let us not talk of such things here: please, come to my home. I will feed your belly while you fill my head with news of distant goings-on.”
Salim checked the angle of the sun, just peeking from beneath the clouds. Sometime remained before Maghrib. “How can I refuse such generosity? It will be my pleasure.”
They spoke of inconsequential things on the way to Dhanji’s home. A large building, white-washed and thick-walled to keep the heat at bay, Salim complemented his host on it.
A smile shone through the Gurjurati’s beard as he invited Salim to join him for fruit and refreshment.
“I thank you. I must pray first, however.”
Dhanji provided him water to cleanse himself and privacy for the performance of Maghrib.
Refreshed, Salim rejoined his host.
“What news of the court, Dhanji Das?” Salim asked, plucking a date from the platter and biting into it.
“Word is slow to reach us here in Surat, but the emperor remains at Agra.”
Dhanji nodded. “Jadu tells me the emperor personally oversees the building of Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb. It is an astounding project.”
“For an astounding love,” Salim said, thinking of the “postcard” in his pack. He shook his head, “Jadu is in Agra, then?”
“Yes, he assists the English factors there.”
“Good news, then. Surely he prospers.”
Dhanji smiled and thumped his belly. “He grows fat, like me.”
“I wonder, have you heard any word of Mian Mir?”
“In fact, I have: Mian Mir fell ill shortly after you departed for that strange place — what was it called?”
“Grantville. An odd name…” Dhanji said, clearly hopeful of some intelligence that might earn out.
“Yes, it is. You were speaking of Mian Mir?”
“Sorry, yes. He fell ill, and while he is better now, he has yet to recover his full strength.”
“Is he still at Lahore?”
“Yes. There is much doubt he will leave his residence again before he passes from this world.”
“You seem concerned.”
Dhanji shrugged, “Guru Mian Mir is a friend to all good men, regardless of faith. Few are the Hindus who do not know who it is who has stayed the hand of the conservatives at court,” Dhanji said.
Salim nodded, relieved. Mian Mir’s agenda of religious tolerance was not always appreciated, even among Hindus, many of whom still saw Islam as the religion of the invader. Encouraged enough to bring the subject back to his purpose, Salim asked, “And your brother, did he tell you anything regarding me?”
“He instructed me to render you any assistance you might need, whenever you might ask for it.”
Salim nodded. “I do not need much: money for a mount and enough supplies to get to Agra.”
“I have sufficient funds set aside for your needs.”